The Biggest Blunder In Video Production Is Still Audio
July 28th, 2014
You round up the usual suspects on almost any video board which include HD vs 4K, 2K vs 4K, the AVCHD codec, which apparently isn’t good for anything, and a dozen other topics that overlook the one thing that can spike any video and that’s the audio.
Today the camera you select is no longer an issue. There are, literally, dozens of quality cameras on the market, all of which produce an acceptable image. For the most part, audiences are pretty forgiving of the visuals. I think it’s hilarious to read endless debates about the inevitability of 4K when so many people are watching video on Netflix and mobile devices with small screens on throttled internet connections.
All that’s a long winded way of saying that just about any camera you pick is going to produce video that’s good enough but that overlooks one factor that will turn off viewers and that’s the audio. Sound is one thing most video cameras don’t do well and that’s not the camera’s fault. On-camera mics are usually omnidirectional and many are using automatic gain, which picks up and amplifies undesirable background noise. Just like automatic settings in video, automatic gain is rarely your friend when it comes to audio.
Replacing the on-camera mic with a lightweight shotgun like the Rode VideoMic Go can help a lot. Shotgun mics are more sensitive to sound that’s in front of them and tend to pick up less ambient sound. Most either come with or have a windscreen as an option which cuts down even further on wind noise. In most cases even a cheap mic will be better than your on-camera option, though that can vary a lot depending on which camera model you purchase.
While replacing the camera mic is good, replacing your camera audio is better. That means running what’s called “second sound” in the business, where the camera audio is little more than a cueing mark to line up the external audio with the audio track of the video timeline. Remember the old clappers, also called a slate, that you used to see on movie sets? The wooden clapper on top was supposed to make a SNAP! that could be heard by both the second audio setup and the camera mic. That sound spike can then be used to line up the audio with the video. If you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting with second sound, it will be worth the money to invest in a software product like Red Giant’s PluralEyes, which syncs the audio for you.
These days, instead of stretching to buy the best camera you can get, settle for the second best camera and leave enough money leftover to buy an inexpensive sound recorder with XLR inputs, a shotgun mic and maybe a starter wireless kit. Pay attention to the sound because nothing can ruin good video faster than bad audio.